Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Huckleberry Finn' To Be Bowdlerized By Publisher

Michael Whitney of FDL:

I wish this was some kind of a joke. The publishers of the next edition of Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn plan to replace the “n” word with “slave.”
What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remove all instances of the “n” word—I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch—present in the text and replace it with slave. The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it. “Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
Whitney then quotes Jonathan Turley on instances of such a replacement which simply don't work, e.g., one that results in the oxymoron "free slave."

But that's not the worst of it. Like censors throughout the ages, those who would censor Twain's use of the word "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn are often enough people who have read none of the book... none of it... but they can cite the page numbers on which the word is used. Context? they know and care nothing of context. Why a boy like Huck Finn would use the word? no, they know nothing of that, either. That Huck ultimately befriends and feels protective of Jim, to the point that Huck is willing to suffer the flames of Hell himself in order to protect Jim from recapture? no, no; they neither know that nor care about it.

I have read that Twain always chose exactly the right word and not its second cousin. I believe that is the case here. Huck, a creature of his time and social status, uses the indifferently contemptuous word (remember, it was not a hateful word until the 20th century) because such a person in that pre-Civil-War period would have used it, and Twain is nothing if not authentic.

Yet there are apparently many parents to whom context and authenticity mean nothing. They cannot even remotely tell you what the novel Huckleberry Finn is about, but they can tell you it contains the 'n'-word. And so the publisher commits an act against which Twain, being dead, cannot defend himself. I cannot begin to tell you all the ways in which they are simply wrong to do this... nor can I convey in my second-cousin words the disservice they do to our children in misrepresenting one of the truly great works of any era about race relations.


  1. It is a travesty and people who do this are criminals. Mr. Clemens was a master wordsmith and choose his words carefully. Removing such words because they are no longer politically correct removes more than just the word...it removes the soul of the story. I am glad my copies of Mark Twain's works are just as he meant them to be read.

  2. You're on a roll!!!! As an language major (English, Spanish, French) and a writer, I am concerned about this. And growing up in the 50s, taught me the impact and negativity of the term "nigger". I have never ever used that word. However, when we start talking about censoring one of the giants of American Literature, I draw the line. At best, it's disrespectful to Mark Twain's legacy: writing about the way it was in this country the way it was no holds barred. At worst, it's plain damned ignorant.

  3. You got to be kidding. This is so Orwellian as to make the blood run cold. Or boil as the case may be.

    The chocolate ration has always been 17 grams.

  4. fallenmonk, Kay, CG...

    The supreme irony of this act is that Mark Twain, while no saint, was probably more nearly anti-racist than any white male of his era, and moreover, HF proves it. I've seen it happen before, though: Twain's story "The War Prayer" is occasionally taken literally as a statement of Twain's views in favor of war, rather than the highly ironic antiwar document it is. There is no arguing with literal-minded people, and thus no persuading them of the wrongness of their position.

  5. Yegods! So who will they get to make the changes - Winston Smith?

  6. jams, Winston Smith is a good bet, but the other question is "What other great works are in the queue for censorship?"



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